I didn’t watch the 2020 CMT Awards last night. (I actually watched the final presidential debate on C-SPAN instead. Crazy, I know). So imagine my surprise when I checked the web this morning and everyone was buzzing about Kelsea Ballerini‘s “risqué” performance.
Kelsea Ballerini doing something risqué? Are they sure?
I’ve followed Ballerini’s career since 2014 when I first heard her song, “Yeah Boy,” and risqué is the last word I’d use to describe her music or her style of performing. I think she’s talented, sweet, and relatable. She’s also a great songwriter and her lyrics aren’t vulgar or trashy. If I was a mom of young girl, I wouldn’t be concerned if my daughter told me she listened to her music and I wouldn’t cover her eyes during one of Ballerini’s award show performances.
Well, not normally. But if I had a daughter and she was watching Ballerini’s performance during last night’s awards, I might just have to shield her eyes or change the channel.
To recap, Ballerini sang “the other girl,” a duet from her third studio album, kelsea with her friend and fellow singer, Halsey. The performance bore a striking resemblance to the 2000 film, Coyote Ugly, with Ballerini and Halsey wearing black leather outfits and singing in a bar setup. Ballerini entered the stage first, wearing a black cowboy hat before taking a seat at the bar and swirling olives inside a martini glass. Halsey joined her for the second verse, dancing atop the bar before the pair finished things up on a smaller stage nearby. Ballerini flirted with the camera, smiling seductively, while Halsey dropped down, opening her legs during the number. The performance, while nowhere near as racy as Miley Cyrus‘s 2013 VMA Performance with Robin Thicke, was, at times, suggestive. And definitely controversial for a genre whose award shows avoid controversy; viewers don’t usually expect political speeches, sexualized performances, or anything remotely raunchy during the CMT Awards. Or the ACMs or the CMAs, for that matter.
And perhaps that’s why the backlash over Ballerini’s performance comes as such a surprise. Because unlike Cyrus, Ballerini isn’t known for being overtly sexy on stage. Ballerini exudes confidence (think Unapologetically‘s “Miss Me More“) and sass (think fellow Unapologetically track, “Get Over Yourself“), but not hypersexualized behavior or twerking or anything else that might concern parents whose daughters listen to her music (i.e., showing cleavage, cussing, promoting drug use, etc.). The fact that there’s this much buzz over her performance because she did something out of character (for her) is itself telling.
And people on the Internet did not hold back.
I watched the performance on CMT’s Instagram TV (IGTV) channel and broke the cardinal rule of watching Internet videos by reading the comments section. Comments ranged from hot to not, from “they look like strippers” to “they didn’t do anything wrong,” with a handful of “this isn’t country music” mixed in.
I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say Ballerini and Halsey looked like strippers, but I also don’t think their performance was appropriate for a family show. And before you call me a prude, I have no problem with women wanting to feel strong and empowered on stage, to take charge, to “get into character,” or to feel confident, but I also think there’s a right and a wrong way to do it (especially when young girls are watching). Women are allowed to feel sexy, but sexiness shouldn’t consist of dancing suggestively or wearing a suggestive outfit. Sexiness isn’t only achieved by doing these things. Ballerini and Halsey could’ve delivered a more understated performance with less theatrics and still could’ve been sexy just by being themselves, being confident, and being in charge. I think a performance similar to that of their CMT Crossroads rendition of “the other girl” would’ve more than sufficed.
Of course, I’m sure many people–maybe even you, reader–would disagree with me. (Ballerini herself posted on Instagram that she disagreed with the backlash). And guess what? That’s your right.
Watch the performance here and make up your own mind: